YouTube – The Struggle between Storytelling & Shallowness
Imagine it is Wednesday, a guy is sitting at his workplace editing some video footage and getting sudden hunger pangs. So he runs downstairs to the kitchen and looks for some food. All of a sudden something catches his eye. A box of bran flakes. He takes it from the shelve and puts it on the table. And suddenly, when he reaches for a bowl, he hears this deep voice coming out of the box of bran flakes which grumbles … “knock, knock!”. He is really confused, looks inside and his heart is racing. The guy asks the box “What do you want?” and the voice replies :
“I want to tell you the meaning of life…”
The scene described is the beginning of a video from The Michalaks. Two YouTube vloggers from Bath who weekly produce beautiful and story-driven movies about their life and their family. The anecdote about the box of bran flakes is just one of many examples how The Michalaks are beefing up their weekly videos with stories that are beyond their daily routine. Something which is definitely not the norm for contemporary vloggers on YouTube who tend to talk about more shallow topics than anything else. Mainly because most of the YouTube community is not visiting the platform to look for profound stories but rather to get distraction while starting the day with a bowl of cereals, chill off during the day or while relaxing after a hard days work. Storytelling and thoughts about the meaning of life struggle to find a place to fit into these endeavors. But more about this later.
“The camera lets him echo his relationship with the world back to the world.”
The channel of The Michalaks was initiated by Hannah Maggs in 2012. Actually it was a form of finding distraction because her mom had just passed away, she felt lost and lonely as she had just completed university and therefore was looking for some kind of stimulation. With the encouragement of her husband Stefan, she started her own YouTube channel, with beauty tutorials and a personal vlog about her pregnancy experience. When she neared the end of pregnancy Stefan started to get involved as well and they decided that he would gradually take over most of the editing and film making process. The Michalaks slowly but surely grew into a very personal and sensitive family channel on YouTube, portraying their lives as new parents each week. The more videos they produced the more Stefan realized that he wanted to tell more than just to bring over their everyday life. He wanted to trigger questions, imaginations and stories which go beyond themselves and would bring about story-driven emotions. So he started to experiment with cameras, different lenses, the process of editing, effects and even illustrations. Over the years Stefan realized that “the camera lets him echo his relationship with the world back to the world.” So by producing their weekly videos and by looking through the camera his view on the world really changed. Stefan never officially learnt film making nor storytelling. He just did it. He tried out different perspectives of narration. For instance by making his son the omnipresent narrator or by switching between storylines in the past and present. He started to work with different camera perspectives by working with drones, fish eyes and by using different film footage shot by his wife Hannah or himself. And he instinctively recognized the power of music and included songs which supported the emotional narrative of their videos. For instance when the family is shown strolling through the woods in slow motion or when the camera observes Hannah playing with their kids and you instantly feel how much he loves his family. As Stefan says he wants to dig deeper into life with their videos. And to enrich them with little stories like the one with the box of bran flakes or when he goes on a mission to find out about the meaning of a monument in Bath, accompanied by classic music and the voice of their six year old son chirping: “Daddy has a theory. He thinks the universe breathes. Just like we do. Only one day the universe will stop breathing. It will contract and eventually become a singularity.”
The Michalaks and Stefan as a creative filmmaker really do challenge the meaning of storytelling on YouTube. But lately Stefan started to feel some sort of struggle and stress. By building up a family channel on YouTube which is not only about distraction — what a big part of the community is looking for — but which longs for meaningful and profound questions and answers. Even though most of the videos have a very happy touch one can feel that Stefan does not see himself as an average influencer or mere vlogger. Most of the time he would probably prefer to tear the cozy blanket from their viewers eyes and yell at them “Who the f*** are we?! And why can´t we just all stop pretending!” — whilst covering the ears of his son. So by following the beautiful, sensitive and story-driven videos of The Michalaks an even bigger question arises: how will storytelling fit into the world of YouTube in the future and reach a community that might not even care to wonder about the meaning of life.
The Michalaks are a little family from Bath who make weekly movies on YouTube, created with a lot of love. Stefan Michalak recently released his first documentary «War of Words — Battle Rap in the UK» and currently plans to pitch a TV show to Netflix and Amazon Prime. www.themichalaks.co.uk